Alona Tate arrived at Vermont Law School with a background in French and French translation, imagining an education that would take advantage of the unusual VLS dual-degree program with France’s University of Cergy-Pontoise. But her eyes were opened to a different possible career when she interned for the South Royalton Legal Clinic in the summer of 2013. She was drawn to immigrant, refugee, and asylum work, and wanted to get the kind of up-close exposure the clinic setting could provide.
Working under supervising attorney Art Edersheim, Tate traveled to the refugee resettlement center in Colchester, Vermont, and met with families who needed guidance in applying for and receiving their green cards: illiterate Bhutanese parents who relied on their children to translate for them; Afghan women who had risked their lives to get here; a father who had spent the previous 19 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. She heard them express how lucky they were, and she felt humbled and inspired by their stories.
In working with Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates, Tate’s exposure deepened. Immigrants escaping from torture back in their home countries travel a difficult path to asylum in the U.S. Challenged by a new language, often unable to pay for legal services, traumatized to a degree that can make recalling details of their torture difficult, the immigrants need to submit lengthy applications that meet strict legal requirements. Beyond their compelling stories: What’s germane under legal principle? Does this meet an admissible definition of evidence? In helping immigrants through that process, Tate collaborated with experienced attorneys, social workers, and psychology students from the University of Vermont — and discovered the kind of work that could become meaningful for a lifetime. “These people have lived in ways I can’t even begin to imagine,” she says. “Their courage is extraordinary. It’s so rewarding to be able help in a way that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.”